I was raised with a love of stories. Story time was my absolute favorite time of the day when I was small, and when I learned to read, I was the kid who always had her nose stuck in a book. When I learned to write, I started writing my own stories, and I never really stopped.
One of the things I’ve been contemplating lately is why I have such an interest in stories. My parents always encouraged my love for stories, so from an early age, it’s been an integral aspect of my personality and identity. More than myself, stories are an integral part of society and the human experience.
Human beings have been telling stories since before we abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and it is a tradition of all cultures. Stories can be told orally, through the written word, through drawn pictures, and through recorded sound and images. There are a lot of reasons we started telling stories in the first place: to explain phenomena we can’t understand and to impart information are two examples.
More importantly, stories teach us empathy. By sharing our experiences, we get to learn more about others’ thoughts and feelings. This works with mythology and modern-day fiction as well. Many young people learn societal values and mores through the stories they enjoy; prime examples are the Harry Potter series (though it would be nice if the author had a better understanding of the values she taught us), the various Percy Jackson series, and the Hunger Games. Stories like these allow teenagers to hold the adults in their lives accountable to those values, as well as society in general.
In the wrong hands, however, stories can be used to brainwash people into believing and doing harmful things. The Q-Anon conspiracy theory cult is based off of the story that the United States government is run by a cabal of pedophilic Satanists/lizard people (or something like that; someone else can go down that rabbit hole and correct me if I’m wrong). The reason it is successful is that, instead of imparting a value or information, or sharing an experience, the Q-Anon story imparts disinformation and threatens the values its adherents already possess. That fear the story elicits convinces people to believe, say, and do things which are completely out of line with the values and mores they are trying to protect.
This is why it is important to pay attention to the stories we are being told, particularly if we are making decisions based on those stories. We should always double check the information we are being imparted, and we should consider the intentions of the storyteller. Are they trying to frighten you, and if so, why? Are they trying to entertain you, warn you, or could there be a more sinister motive?
Because stories are so prevalent in our culture and society, they are powerful. They teach us how to function in society and how to connect with other people, and, honestly, they’re downright entertaining, but they can also be twisted to do more harm than the good they were intended to do. We dismiss stories – even the most outlandish, ridiculous stories – to our detriment.